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Nikaah (1982)

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Raj Babbar and Salma Agha in Nikaah (1982)

Each of B. R. Chopra’s films addresses a serious topic, but they are always entertaining. Nikaah looks at the issue of Muslim divorce, arguing that to be able to get a divorce merely by uttering the three words ‘Talaq, talaq, talaq’ is not in the interests of women or even of men. To address this topic, B. R. Chopra has made a Muslim social, a genre that was rare during the 1980s, and even the success of this film did not lead to its revival. As is typical of this genre, all the characters are Muslims, speak and read Urdu and live an aristocratic life that is rare among Muslims in modern India but was certainly known before partition. The ‘Islamicate’ nature of the film is constantly exaggerated in gesture, seen in the elaborate greetings of ‘aadaab’, in the language, which is always flowery and Persianate, and in the spectacular sets and neo-traditional costumes. The contrast between the traditional nawabi house and the glamorous, modern world of Bombay is carefully underlined, as is the difference in lifestyle and customs between the world of the Muslim elite and the educated middle classes. The Nawab seems part of the decadence associated with Islamic cultures in film and literature, but he does not participate in the arts and learning of the old world.

As one expects of B. R. Chopra, the story is told in a gripping way, avoiding didacticism and excess while focusing at all times on the social message. The only exception, perhaps, is the final denouement, which is very stagey and wordy. The dialogues are well written and the film moves at a steady pace.

The film is surprisingly frank about sexual matters, from the depiction of the female nude at the beginning, as ‘Woman’ talks about the suffering and sacrifice she has undergone in history, to the married relationships of Niloufer (Salma Agha). The Nawabi Wasim (Deepak Parashar), Niloufer’s first husband, makes it clear that his love for her is based not on companionship but on sexual pleasure. His lack of any empathy for her is clear when he divorces her in a fit of temper but cannot see why she should be unwilling to take him back. Haider (Raj Babbar), Niloufer’s second husband, by contrast, sees companionship as central to their relationship, although the physical side also plays a key part.

Even though B. R. Chopra consulted with an adviser on Muslim religious law, the film caused some controversy among the Muslim population, who thought it portrayed them as backward in their gender politics, with their hot-headed men willing to throw their women out onto the street; however, it apparently found a major audience among burqa-clad Muslim women, who wept with the heroine and enjoyed her questioning of the divorce law, and her decision to leave both men until they admitted that they have misunderstood and wronged her.

Cast and Production Credits

Year – 1982, Genre – Drama (Muslim Social), Country – India, Language – Urdu, Producer(s) – B.R. Films, Director – B.R. Chopra, Music Director – Ravi, Cast – Salma Agha, Raj Babbar, Deepak Parashar, Asrani

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